by Hanna Vock
Free play, open activities, excursions, working in small groups, activities for the whole group – all these are important features of pre-school education. Yet, especially for the advancement of gifted children, working in projects is indispensable.
To me, learning in the course of a good project is the supreme discipline among all learning methods.
A project has a goal in the here and now. It is not ‘learning for some later time’.
Learning in projects has something in common with doing research: something new is being discovered, a new problem is being solved.
In research a problem is solved which is new to mankind and is as of yet unsolved.
In learning a problem is being solved that has been solved by mankind, but not yet by the individual. For him it is new and therefore represents a challenge.
All human beings keep learning for as long as they live – some more so, some less.
A project can be conducted by one person alone or together with others in a group, but not aside from each other (let alone against each other).
A project has a beginning, a history, an arc of suspense and a result. This makes it an experience and an adventure instead of boring as is ‘swotting’.
A project goes through troubles and crises which have to be overcome in order to bring success. Trying different approaches is helpful and is being practised.
In a project several individuals contribute ideas, there is exchange and enrichment (in the form of knowledge and differing approaches).
A good project is an “inter-disciplinary” project, that is how it broadens horizons.
… in a nutshell …
Project work is not rare in good kindergartens. Projects provide all children with good learning opportunities. Gifted children are in urgent need of project work.
This article gives reasons and lists features of good projects. In addition there is a catalogue of questions which are useful for the planning, quality control and evaluation of a project.
Also included: a list of project documentations featured in this manual.
A project also serves to promote secondary virtues like commitment, perseverance, focus, endurance.
The result of a project can be presented to a larger circle and can thereby evoke criticism and praise by which the learner may grow.
A mother gave the following account of her small boy (10 months):
“I have a feeling that he is always involved in a project. He will pursue something and stay at it until he clearly reaches a point of success. Presently the bathroom is of great interest. For more than a week he has been crawling to the bathroom 3 or for times a day, checking whether the door was closed. If so, he would utter sounds of annoyance and turn away. If the door is open he will enter quickly and explore the bathroom.”
After quite some time, when the boy was 2 years and 4 months old, the same mother reported:
“He still has his ‘projects’. For quite a while he has been giving himself precise accounts of the day’s experiences, after I had taken him to bed. I call it his ‘project Diary’. He did not start speaking before he was 2 but now he is making rapid progress.
Sometimes I eavesdrop, it sounds really cute, he does not articulate perfectly yet, but speaks with great emphasis. Often it goes on for more than half an hour before he falls asleep. It really seems like he is keeping an oral diary, all the while he is practising his speech. The other day I overheard him saying:
“All that I did today. All that! All that!”
The day before yesterday I secretly listened to him going over his vast vocabulary: a book, a blanket, a concrete mixer, a digger, a ball, a jacket, a shovel, and so forth – for more than 30 minutes.
Is sounded like a systematic exercise on the indefinite article (a, an). [The German words inflect by gender, and the given examples alternate between masculine/neuter „ein“ and feminine „eine“. – Transl. note]
I wanted to see if he would continue the exercise the next evening. But he was onto a new ‘project’: the lamp, the bed, the rabbit, the car, the desk chair, the carrot, the roll, and so forth. This time it was the definite article. So he was practising the definite article now. [German: „der“, „die“, „das“].“
So much for the mother’s report.
What I have not heard of with regard to toddlers was:
- the habitual “keeping an oral diary” and
- the systematic exercising of the definite and the indefinite article.
I think that is amazing.
What I have been familiar with is that even the very small children among the bright or gifted enjoy learning in projects of their own choice and that they do so very effectively.
Projects in kindergarten
In her article Reading and Writing in Kindergarten Silvia Hempler wrote:
“One of our main methods is working in projects. Since projects are aimed at a result – whatever it be – a great variety of the children’s faculties need to be employed to reach success. This integrates gifted children in shared activities and provides a multitude of experiences for all children of our facility. Experiences which every child may assimilate in its individual way.“
Learning in good projects is the best method for all children. Needless to say, it must be conducted well, certain criteria must be fulfilled – but then this method is unbeatable.
Learning in good projects suits gifted children perfectly. This is because it requires systematic and cross-linked thinking which gifted children happen to be very good at. Also, they can employ their broad knowledge in a meaningful way. This often changes their standing within the group. If their contributions are perceived as positive, their standing improves.
Gifted children are extremely imaginative, they have a clear view and dispose of critical thinking, characteristics that can be vital for the success of a project. Early reading, writing and math skills may further promote a project and can be demonstrated throughout.
At the same time gifted children can be challenged and hence further develop their skills in the course of a project (if their kindergarten teacher provides for this).
Klaudia Kruszynski wrote:
“For my first assignment (for the IHVO Certificate Course) I practised the observation of children. The knowledge and experience I have gathered there I would like to apply in a project.
I have noticed several children with extraordinary talents in my group. Some children show outstanding performance only in specific domains, be it intellectual or creative, social or in the motor skills. Other children appear to be ahead in all domains.
These children have needs that go beyond the needs of the average child. If they are to develop further, they need challenges that go beyond what an average child can handle.
See also: Klaudia Kruszynski under the heading ‘My Project-Method’ – part of the article The Advancement of Mathematical Talent in Kindergarten.
Interesting Projects Featured in Detail Here in Our Manual:
Project: Time (Klaudia Kruszynski) (in German)
Power Girls’ Club (Gabriele Drescher-Krumrey)
Journalism in Kindergarten (Isabel Bonifert-Manig)
Project: Number Detectives (Heike Brandt) (in German)
Number Detectives Are Taking Measurements (Heike Brandt) (in German)
Hans Has a Heart and Experiences the Project ‘Tree of Words’ (Irmi Jurke) (in German)
Chess Club (Nazlι Baykuş)
Drawing Course with Linda (Silvia Hempler)
A Hen’s Egg (Hanna Vock)
For Once Live Like a Mongole (Beate Kroeger-Müller) (in German)
Änne Draws and Writes A Book (Diana Verch)
Picture Book about the Perchten (Anke Cadoni)
Making Friends in the Researcher’s Club (Beate Kroeger-Müller)
Our Village in the Woods (Dorit Nörmann)
Watching Beans Grow (Klaudia Kruszynski)
Car Construction (Lucy Rüttgers)
When Were the Middle Ages? Project: Time Spool (Klaudia Kruszynski)
Collecting Cans – An Environmental Project (Silvia Hempler) (in German)
Butterfly-Club (Sonja Marquardt)
Children Interpreting a Picture by Dalí. (Klaudia Kruszynski)
Project: Building a Flower Bed (Doris Lenz) (in German)
A Perennnial Flower Bed for the Yard (Birgit Krabiell) (in German)
Experimenting with a Candle Flame (Petra Cohnen)
Ergün and Music (Petra Cohnen)
„Peter and the Wolf“ and the Fine Arts (Petra Cohnen)
Experiment „Vulcan“ (Kornelia Eppmann) (in German)
Projekt: Measuring and Crafting (Ayla Altin) (in German)
A Car Wash for Bobby Cars (Ayla Altin) (in German)
Adrian Studies Nature’s Creeps (Jordis Overödder)
Adrian Takes to Reading the Newspaper – Questions of Life and Death (Jordis Overödder)
The Mountain Club Club (Sonja Marquardt) (in German)
Rabbit, Dog and Black Rat – A Pet Project (Heike Miethig) (in German)
Features of a Project that Does Not Bore but Stimulate Gifted Children:
The concept (the initial idea) is conceived by the children themselves or by the kindergarten teacher – in any case it pertains to the children’s current interests and is closely related to their experiences and their open questions. Most frequently it is the gifted children who come up with the ideas.
The topic of the project’s subject matter can be broadened and narrowed or may change altogether. Further topics may arise from the initial activities and can be delved into.
The project kicks in from the very beginning on; no time is wasted on preparations, instead the project group dives right into the subject matter and gets specific.
The project can involve a single child, a small cluster or the whole group. The participants can even be from different groups within the facility. As the project goes and tasks arise along the way, participants may temporarily split into sub-groups to deal with these tasks alongside each other while working towards the common goal or they might just dig deeper into a specific area.
The project group is clearly defined, though. The members are ‘enlisted’. If desired – and if it does not disturb progress – other children may temporarily join in.
The kindergarten teacher makes sure the members of the group are chosen wisely. For certain sophisticated projects the kindergarten teacher brings together the right blend of characters sharing common interests, abilities and talents.
With regard to their individual strengths the children are encouraged to do the planning of the project themselves.
With regard to their individual abilities the children are encouraged to tackle the search for useful information. Gifted children and those who show great interest are encouraged to learn useful techniques of acquiring information (asking experts, phoning, sending e-mails, doing research on the internet and in books).
The children are encouraged to name clear goals for their project and to keep checking whether they are doing any progress and what the next steps might be.
The children decide what steps are to be taken and where they need help.
The children experience how odds are overcome, problems are solved and arising questions are answered.
The children experience a sense of contentment and pride of collective achievements. They experience their cleverness, their power and their perseverance. They experience a kind of teamwork where all members bring their individual strengths to the project.
The kindergarten teacher constantly reflects the progress of the project on the basis of his/her pedagogic expertise. He/she observes the individual learning processes and sets necessary impulses to lead the project to success.
He/she ensures the implementation of a multitude of methods, a holistic approach (inter-disciplinary shifts of focus being welcome) and effective social learning throughout the project.
He/she makes sure that all children get to acquire new knowledge and skills.
He/she sees to it that the children perceive their individual progress (reflection) and shares their joy about it.
Such public relations efforts may be directed at the other children in the kindergarten, at the parents or at the general public.
The kindergarten teacher willingly makes use of the gifted children’s expertise.
He/she openly cooperates with his/her colleagues, with the parents and external experts for all the children to see.
Some Questions That Are Useful throughout the Project and at Its Conclusion For Documentation and Evaluation Purposes:
How did the idea for the project emerge?
Was there an extended period of preparations or did you dive right into he subject matter?
What was the projected goal? Which ideas did the gifted child(-ren) contribute with regard to this question?
What did the gifted child(-ren), what did the other children get to actively do?
What did the gifted child(-ren), what did the other children learn – especially on a cognitive, verbal and personal level?
Did the children develop new learning and thinking strategies?
Did the children dispose of basic skills necessary for an effective participation in the project? Was the gifted child able to plan and handle the emerging tasks?
In which ways did the gifted child manage to bring its high ability to the project? Which special gifts / strengths did the other children show?
Were there any experts involved in the project (children/adults internal or external)?
How have the concept and the project itself come along? Did it drag on at times or was it ‘happening’ at all times? Why was that so?
Who was pushing the project, and how does he/she do it?
Which impulses did you as the teacher provide? Which impulses were given by the gifted child(-ren), by the other children?
Did anybody dominate the project – if so, was it to the advantage or the disadvantage of the project?
What part did the gifted child(-ren) play in the project? What did they learn? Did the gifted child discover a new playing mate during the project, as the teamwork with that child was effective and fun?
Did the original object of the project remain the main focus or did new goals arise?
How did the children motivate each other?
What adversities had to be overcome (by the children/by the kindergarten teacher)? How was this experienced?
Was there anything or anybody which or who had a disturbing effect on the project? What or who was it?
How was the time management? Was there a lot of waiting around? Was it hectic and were there forced interruptions of unfinished activities?
Was there a continuous and in-depth exchange about the work done and about possible next steps?
Did the children show signs of meta-cognition (reflections on learning, assessments of their own abilities)?
Did the children have a sense of achievement? Who did, who did not? What did they say about it?
Was the project fun for the children and the kindergarten teacher likewise?
Was there positive feed-back from the parents / colleagues / management?
Projects are to facilitate versatile action; the object is to promote, support and even evoke creative and complex thinking processes …
This can be achieved with the most different subject matters: there is hardly anything that gifted children couldn’t develop an interest in.
Published in German: June 2012
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint
Translation: Arno Zucknick
The translation of this article was made possible by
Silvia Hempler, Remscheid (Germany),
and Christa Liethen, Rheinbreitbach (Germany).